Coalition seeks moratorium on hospital mergers, partnerships

Reacting to proposed mergers and affiliations between secular and religious hospitals in Washington state, the ACLU and a coalition of civil rights and health advocacy groups have sent a letter to Gov. Jay Inslee asking him to impose a six-month moratorium on decision by the state Department of Health on applications related to hospital ownership, operation, or management.

“Patients are at risk of being denied medically appropriate health care due to the unprecedented number of medical facilities in Washington that are considering or are planning mergers with religious health care corporations," the coalition states in the letter. "When such mergers take place, secular hospitals are required to follow religious doctrine, resulting in patient care dictated by someone else’s religious beliefs, not the patient’s needs or interests.”

The letter further urges Gov. Inslee to conduct a "community health needs assessment" to make "an objective evaluation of such mergers’ impact on patients’ ability to access medically appropriate health care services" and "to provide policy guidance for the future."

The letter was prepared within days after a joint announcement by UW Medicine and the Catholic Church-affiliated PeaceHealth Medical Group that the two organizations intended to negotiate a "strategic affiliation" for the provision of advanced medical care and education services.

PeaceHealth recently terminated negotiations for a joint operating agreement with Franciscan Health Systems of Washington and Oregon, a unit of Denver-based Catholic Health Initiatives, one of the nations largest operators of Catholic-affiliated hospitals and medical centers.

One signer of the ACLU letter Monica Harrington, is co-chairwoman of Washington Women for Choice. Harrington has been outspoken in her criticism of the agreement under which the tax-funded Hospital District on San Juan Island provides $1 million per year to PeaceHealth's Peace Island Medical Center for provision of care for indigent local residents at the newly opened hospital and clinic in Friday Harbor.

Other groups signing the letter include Compassion and Choices Washington, Mt. Baker Planned Parenthood and PFLAG Washington State Council.

— Steve Wehrly



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